Former NBA star Stephon Marbury has built his basketball legacy in China by winning three championships for the city of Beijing, but he brought more than just his game overseas. In the past year, Marbury has relaunched his Starbury sneaker line, focusing on affordable basketball and lifestyle shoes inspired by his time in the country.
"I'm from the housing projects, where people can't afford $150 shoes," Marbury told ESPN.com. "I was one of those kids who wished to have shoes at that price, but my parents couldn't buy shoes at that price. Putting food on the table was more important than owning a pair of pricey shoes.
"Now that [I've] lived in China for so many years, I've learned that shoes that cost $150 don't cost that much to make, which drives me, even more, to continue building my brand globally for more people to have an opportunity to buy shoes at an affordable price. My brand is for the people who can't afford, and those in need."
Marbury's sneakers are probably most famous in America for their price. Back when he was playing for the New York Knicks in 2006, the original Starbury line, produced with retailer Steve & Barry's, cost less than $15, with about 1 million pairs reportedly being sold in the first six months. Starbury lasted for about three years, before Steve & Barry's shut down in 2009 (also Marbury's last year in the NBA).
Home boy your paying 200 for Jordan's and they make them for 5 dollars. The shoes are made in China in the same places. Stay calm we coming!
- I AM PEACE STAR (@StarburyMarbury) October 4, 2015
Jordan has been robbing the hood since. Kids dying for shoes and the only face this dude makes is I don't care. The time will change!
- I AM PEACE STAR (@StarburyMarbury) October 5, 2015
Real people know. I'm off the kids getting killed for Jordan's. I hate that this dude won't change that. Greedy! https://t.co/tcpL2whXVE
- I AM PEACE STAR (@StarburyMarbury) October 6, 2015
Marbury also dismissed James as just a "follower" of MJ's.
In 2014, a Nike employee explained to a University of Oregon class that a $100 pair of shoes costs about $28.50 to make in Asia and ship to the U.S., according to the Portland Business Journal. Popular American shoe companies would then sell the shoe to wholesalers for around $50 (after some expenses on their end), and the store would add a 100 percent markup, bringing the cost to $100.
For the latest release, the Starbury Elite Lightup, Marbury wanted something adaptable and fun. The shoe collar is detachable so that you can make it either a high- or low-top. The sneakers also pair with a smartphone app that controls lights on the bottom of the shoe. Through the app, the lights recognize the beats of whatever music is playing on the phone.
"These shoes can easily be sold for $300, but we sell this technology shoe for only $48.98," Marbury said.
"Creating the shoes with technology for people to be able to control the lights from their phone was something completely different than any shoe ever made. I think people are starting to love the idea of something different from other brands. Making a difference has always been most important to Starbury because it takes lots of care and thought to do so."
While there have been plenty of shoes with neon lighting before, the Starbury app brings a unique element to the sneaker. Starbury product manager Yang Chen said that the Elite -- available online only in the U.S. and China -- has already sold out of its original inventory. Other lines of Starbury shoes cost $15 and $33.
Marbury started playing in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) in 2010 with Shanxi Zhongyi. His contract included a business partnership to establish and promote the Starbury brand in China's market, but the plan fell through. Marbury continued to work with several Chinese shoe manufacturers and retailers to bring his shoe line back. With his huge success in the CBA and growing social influence, the Starbury brand gradually took root again.
From being unable to afford the most expensive shoes growing up in Coney Island to creating his own as a basketball star in China, Marbury sounds as committed as ever to his Starbury venture.
"There's a difference when you want something and when you need something," Marbury said. "This is needed, so I'll continue doing it."